Thursday, February 04, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: December 2020


Heroes At Home #1 (Marvel Entertainment) At $9.99, this tiny 4.5-inch-by-4.5-inch little square of a comic book is extremely over-priced, especially when one considers the format. Each of it's 72 pages is actually just one panel, and almost all of these are without any dialogue at all, so it takes mere minutes to read. In fact, you could probably read the entire thing while standing at the comics rack in the comics shop before you local comic shopkeep even knows what you're up to, but I wouldn't advise it!

Cost aside, it is a fun little book. Written by Zeb Wells and drawn by the incomparable art team of Gurihiru, who regularly provide some of the best comics art available, the book is a series of eight vignettes, each featuring one of the more popular Marvel superheroes dealing with life during the pandemic: Trying to stay busy while staying at home, having to cut their own hair, telecommuting to "work" and so on. 

Spider-Man, Black Panther, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Hulk, Thor, Venom and Wolverine each appear in a nine-panel sequence, dramatically stretched out a bit by the fact that each panel is a page of its own, so it will take several page turns to get to the punchline, some of which are slowly, thrillingly telegraphed (as in the Captain America story), others of which are neat surprises (like the Spider-Man one). 

Again, almost all of them are completely silent, save for the Captain Marvel one, in which she, a Skrull and a Kree warrior all have a sort of space-battle over Zoom.

I'm...not sure how I feel about the Venom story, in which Eddie Brock's symbiote is used as a substitute for masks, paper towels and...another item that was at times in short supply during the pandemic (Thankfully, the payoff for this gag is left to occur in the reader's imagination).

I've been curious if the pandemic has actually shown up in the DC or Marvel Universes yet, as at this point the comics that are being released are ones that have been scripted and drawn since the spring shut-downs and the widespread wearing of masks. I'm assuming it has mostly been ignored, but have wondered if artists have started drawing masks on civilians in the streets below Spider-Man and Superman as they go about their adventures or what. 

This comic, at least, acknowledges the pandemic, although it's certainly not in-continuity (the heroes all tend to wear their costumes around their houses, and Hulk hangs out coloring as Hulk, for example). It's fun, funny and beautifully drawn, I just think it's more of a $5 comic than $10 one. 

King-Size Conan #1 (Marvel) It probably won't surprise you to learn that the sole reason I decided to pick up this 50-page, $5.99 special is that it includes a 10-page story by Kevin Eastman, a long-time Conan fan finally getting to tell his very own Conan story (officially; he did write and draw Conan into the pages of 1984's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #8, the one guest-starring Conan parody Cerebus The Aardvark).

Eastman's story, colored by Neeraj Menon and lettered by VC's Travis Lanham (and I have to admit, both colored Eastman art and digital lettering over Eastman art looks really weird and off to me), finds Conan badly injured during a battle with some bandits. Villagers nurse him back to health...and are then later slaughtered by those same bandits. Conan repays the villagers' kindness by avenging their deaths. Pretty basic stuff, but fun to see Eastman's signature style applied to a new character, and one who isn't generally rendered with such thick, anxious lines and on such ink-splattered planes. 

The other four stories in the collection, commissioned in celebration of the character's fiftieth anniversary, are by Roy Thomas and Steve McNiven, Kurt Busiek and Pete Woods, Chris Claremont and Roberto de La Torre and Steven S. DeKnight and Jesus Saiz. Each is apparently meant to depict the character's various aspects, and are labeled as such: The Barbarian, The Thief, The Mercenary, The Avenger and The Corsair. 

Two of the stories are prequels to better-known ones. The Thomas one, for example, leads directly into the first Marvel story featuring Conan, ending with a bit of text telling the reader to "see a reprinting of the first issue of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian" to read "The remainder of this tale of the coming of Conan." The other is Busiek and Woods' "In The City of Thieves," which is set in Arenjun, and features a few shots of The Tower of The Elephant, including a final panel of Conan striding away to spend his ill-gotten gains, the tower in the background, as he says to himself, "...and who  knows what else might come up?" (Busiek, of course, adapted Robert E. Howard's original "Tower of The Elephant" story during his run on Dark Horse's Conan, with artist Cary Nord). 

Of these five, I think DeKnight and Saiz's final story, "Ship of The Damned", might have been the strongest, including as it does strange imagery surrounding a giant boat filled with eerie creatures ranging from human to animal to otherworldly, all of which seem to have been transmuted into wood, even, in one instance, to have become part of the hull of the ship itself. 

All in all, not a bad $6 spent...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #110
(IDW Publishing)
This is the issue that my shop had sold out of during the couple of months where the book dropped off of my pull-list for some reason. It was easy enough to follow though, in large part because the book isn't super plot-heavy, but has become an almost slice-of-life like title, with the occasional action scene. 

Here Raphael and Alopex go on a date, which I have weird feelings about (but then, the Turtles-with-the-souls-of-reincarnated-human beings is weird to me), and they end up getting in first a fight and then a motorcycle race with some other mutants. And then there's a pretty long but cool sequence in which Leonardo infiltrates Mutanimals HQ using a variety of ninja skills, including a couple of disguises. Sophie Campbell scripts, while Jodi Nishijma provides the artwork, and the latter does an excellent job of matching the former's basic design sense and rendering style.  

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #112
 Sophie Campbell's still on script-only duty, but, as previously stated, Jodi Nishijima's style is so compatible with Campbell's that I think it would be entirely forgivable for a reader to not realize Campbell wasn't drawing these issues, if they skipped the credits. 

Despite the cover, this issue is almost entirely devoid of action—Casey Jones bonks some people on the head with a hockey stick, unhelpfully—and features a lot of conversation, but a lot still seems to happen, as the focus remains on trying to turn what is essentially a mutant ghetto into a functioning society. 

The centerpiece of this issue is a big group therapy meeting at the Splinter Clan house, wherein the various characters express an interestingly wide variety of opinions regarding their mutations, and, like many marginalized groups, some of them seem to be coming up with hierarchies of mutation, finding differences between those who were animals who mutated into anthropomorphic animals, versus those who were humans first, and some of the characters in the group session even arguing about the sorts of animals they got mutated into ("I get to be an elephant! Elephants are sick, dude!").

As much as Marvel's X-Men has traditionally been credited with being a metaphor for minorities and the marginalized, Campbell and company's TMNT has been doing it infinitely better of late, and it's been able to do it without including a bunch of superhero schtick like X-Men comics must always resort to. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Jennika II #2 (IDW) For the second time this year a random issue of  a Jennika mini-series that I hadn't ordered ended up in my pull-list, and I brought it all the way home from the shop before noticing, because I am dumb. 

Based on what I see here, I don't think I'd mind reading the series on purpose, although buying the single issues seems pretty crazy, as this is $4.99 for just 24 pages; I guess the extra buck goes toward the extra four pages, but that still seems awfully steep for such a short issue. 

This is written, drawn, colored and lettered by Brahm Revel, and the pages show the individuality and care that goes into a comic when it's one person creating it themselves. I really like Revel's art in general, and the design of Jennika in particular: The thinner build and the almost perfectly round head remind me of some of my favorite guest-artists of the original Mirage volume of TMNT, like Matt Howarth  (#41, The Haunted Pizza) and Rick McCollum and Bill Anderson (#37, #42), although I also feel like there's something Guy Davis-y about Revel's art, perhaps because of the look and feel of some of the monsters in this issue.

Obviously I missed the set-up from the first issue, but Jennika and a mutant bat named Ivan, who looks just barely mutated, so that he looks more vampire than bat, are trying to deal with a giant praying mantis and a giant frog creature locked in combat on the streets of Mutant Town. They're looking for the source or cause of the monsters, and a bunch of rumors lead them underground, where they discover a secret colony of mutants who might be monsters, or just might be more mutants like the ones who live above ground (smart money says the latter). 


City Monster
(Penguin Random House)
Reza Farazmand's original graphic novel about a forest monster who wanted something different from life than his parents and thus moved to the city to make his mark on the world is a fun stoner comedy of sort, a parody of, well, of pretty much everyone, set in a world where monsters and the supernatural co-exist with real people. 

"You barely leave the house," the ghost that haunts the title character's apartment points out  "And you smoke a lot of weed." 

"You're smoking weed right now," the monster, a sasquatch, retorts to the ghost, who Farazmand draws with even less detail than the ghost monsters in Pac-Man get. Indeed, a little joint and lighter are in that panel floating in front of the ghost, who can apparently smoke weed using ghostly poltergeist powers, as it has no limbs. 

In short order, the forest monster-turned-city monster doesn't make his mark on the world, but, with the help of his neighbor, a vampire, he does help solve a mystery: Who the ghost was before he died, and why he haunts this particular apartment. Was he someone important? Was he someone fancy? Was he, perhaps, the king of Spain? (Spoiler alert: He was not).

It's a fun, funny book with a lot of effective deadpan humor, made more so by Farazamand's simple, straightforward art. A mummy, an explorer type, a witch, and a cat whose expressions are hard to read are also involved. 

The Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child: The Deluxe Edition (DC Comics) The latest entry into Frank Miller's Dark Knight-iverse body of work is a particularly slight one, consisting of a 48-page story in which the title character quite literally phones in an appearance (He and Batwoman Carrie Kelly exchange texts using a special Batman emoji keyboard on their phones; this being the deluxe edition, though, the 27 pages of back-matter includes an alternate version of the scene, which would have shown Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman engaged in an off-world battle together).

The book seems to exist at all because the incomparable Rafael Grampa wanted to collaborate with Frank Miller on a Dark Knight book, and Miller agreed. Miller's contribution is limited to scripting and providing a single variant cover; for the earlier Dark Knight III: The Master Race, he seemed a bit more engaged, co-writing the series as well as providing more covers and, most importantly, he provided the art for several odd mini-comic interludes. 

Oddly enough, Miller's art style still seems quite present in the book, thanks almost entirely to Grampa's work trying to to calibrate his own style to look like a compromise between it and Miller's. This shows in certain images more than others, and certainly Grampa is honoring at least a couple of Miller's character designs (on Lara, for example, or The Joker), and certain pages are designed to resemble those from The Dark Knight Returns, but Grampa has internalized aspects of Miller's style in a way that is genuinely impressive (Check out the cover, for example; Lara in particular looks like she was penciled by Miller but finished by Grampa).

The storyline is as slight as the page count, perhaps slighter. Lara and her little brother Jonathan, the "Golden Child" of the title, float about looking at the people all around and below them, Lara expressing various misanthropic thoughts.

Then they come upon an anti-Trump rally, which is in the process of being attacked by a drug-addled mob of violent clowns wearing The Joker's colors. ("They never stop complaining--not until they start killing each other. Useless," Lara says as they come upon the protest-turned-riot. "After all, Jon--it's an election. This is democracy in action. This is what they do.")

Then Batwoman and her Batboys rush in as an anti-anti-protest mob, leading to a big clowns vs. bats street fight. 

The politics are big and stupid, and sort of depressing to try to parse now, in the weeks after a literal pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol in a deadly riot that claimed five lives, and which increasingly disturbing information continues to come out about (For what it's worth, I read this the first time in well before January 6, and read it a second time and am typing up this review a few weeks afterwards). 

Basically, The Joker and Darkseid are backing Trump, and, indeed, seem to have their own little campaign headquarters, where kids in Joker make-up act as online trolls and make Trump merchandise. Just before the heroes attack them, The Joker pulls on a jacket bearing an American flag design and the words "I Really Don't Care Do U?" ("The Governor" is an off-panel villain who makes a phoned-in appearance, although it's unclear who he is...if one were simply reading a script, one would think the "election" Lara referred to was his election, but Grampa draws Trump over and over throughout,'s muddled, to say the least. And Lara, if not sympathetic to the comics Trump, is at least contemptuous of the anti-Trump protestors, but perhaps that's in keeping with her contempt of humanity in general? Of course, I feel like I've already thought about this more than Miller has, so perhaps it's fruitless to try to draw concrete conclusions. I mean, Greta Thunberg appears in one of the last panels, ready to beat up Darsesid, so...). 

That fight leads to another, with the Dark Knight-iverse's Finest attacking campaign HQ and Lara and Jonathan killing Darkseid in a pretty epic—if, like all of  Miller's stories from the Dark Knight oeuvre, overly verbal—battle with mythological imagery (A crater, a rain of blood, Darkseid's empty helmet rolling on the ground). He is reborn as a bigger, scarier, more mythological-still version of himself, and defeated again, not necessarily by the heroes being more noble or more clever or more brave or more selfless, but by the simple fact that they are more powerful.

I think there's a bit of a message in there about the power of youth to overcome the evil of adulthood, as this comic feature the daughters of Batman and Superman, and the most powerful character of all is the youngest child of any of the heroes (and, again, there's Greta Thunberg), but, again, there's so much verbal noise with so many perplexing clues it's hard to read too much into what Miller is trying to say, politically or thematically. 

On the other hand, this is probably the best-drawn DC comic—or super-comic in general—that I can remember reading recently, and DC should publish whatever the fuck Grampa wants to draw.

Empyre (Marvel Entertainment) This is the main collection of Marvel's 2020 crossover event Empyre, and it includes the six-issue Empyre miniseries, plus a pair of prologues (Empyre #0: Avengers, Empyre #0: Fantastic Four) and a pair of epilogues (Empyre: Aftermath—Avengers, Empyre: Aftermath—Fantastic Four). Writers Al Ewing and Dan Slott collaborated on the miniseries, and divided up the one-shots, so that regular FF writer Slott handles their specials and Ewing handled the Avengers specials.

I found it a somewhat frustrating read in this particular structure, as the story essentially starts three different times and concludes three different times, and reading the parallel introductory one-shots prior to Empyre #1 strips some of the sense of urgency out of the proceedingsI got the impression while reading that this was a story written to be read as it was serially published, and aimed specifically at readers who read Marvel comics week in and week out, and that's a perfectly valid way for the writers and the publisher to approach a story. It just makes the experience of reading the collection quite different, and opens it to criticisms that one might not notice had one been encountering the various chapters each Wednesday over the course of a couple of months (Another concern with this particular curation of the reading experience? A pivotal event that happens near the climax and turns the tide of battle happens in a tie-in comic not collected here; the event is briefly mentioned, as are the events of many other tie-ins, but given its importance in resolving the overall conflict, it feels a bit like watching a movie in which an important scene was cut out*). 

I had two other difficulties with the book, both of which had more to do with me not being the right audience for this then being actual deficiencies in the creation.

First, it turns on the culmination of events from long, long ago in Fantastic Four and Avengers history: The Kree/Skrull War, the Celestial Messiah business, and Fantastic Four Annual #18 is even mentioned in an editorial box. For reference, that annual was released in 1984, during John Byrne's run on the title. That's a full 37 years ago. Granted, Marvel did smartly republish almost a dozen $1 reprints of old, relevant comics as part of their True Believers program as Empyre was ongoing, but, again, that doesn't do the readers of this particular collection any good. 

Secondly, it the proceedings felt oddly repetitive to me, and it took me a bit to figure out why. Despite the particular specifics of the proceedings, this is basically an aliens invade a superhero world and everyone fights them off story, of the sort that is extremely common in monthly superhero comics, and, without any sort of twist, doesn't really seem worthy of the special event treatment. Especially since the previous crossover event series, 2019's War of The Realms, was almost exactly the same sort of invasion conflict, albeit those invaders were from alternate dimensions, as opposed to different planets  (It doesn't help that the plant-like alien invaders the Cotati sort of resemble some of the War of The Realms invaders). 

On the plus side, I finally understand why the spelled Empyre with a y instead of an i: The new combined Kree/Skrull Empire, now under the leadership of Hulkling and a court of a-hole, anti-Earth advisors, have developed a weapon that detonates suns that they plan to use on Earth's sun, which would burn up the Earth. As if it was a pyre. That's right, the title of this series is a pun!  

Justice League Vol. 6: Vengeance Is Thine (DC Comics) The extremely peculiar nature of writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV's Justice League run—being an almost 40-issue single mega-arc bridging event series Dark Nights: Metal and Dark Nights: Death Metal—left the ongoing monthly series in a particularly peculiar position after Snyder left the book with its story unfinished. In essence, the writer who followed him, Robert Venditti, was in the unenviable position of writing a series of fill-in arcs for the publisher's previously premiere title, stories that couldn't deviate much from what came before because readers (and likely Venditti himself) couldn't be certain about what was going to happen next.

The result, two four-issue arcs and an annual collected in a rather unnecessary trade paperback collection, is a rather mediocre read. For Justice League stories, these seem stunted and small, the sorts of arcs that might have appeared in JLA Classified or even one of the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited comic book spin-offs of the television cartoon, with a handful-sized line-up in stories that feel like inventory plots, fleshed out with too-current details added (Superman coming out as Clark Kent in Brian Michael Bendis' Superman books, Alfred's apparent death in Tom King's Batman) that make placing these anywhere in Snyder's narrative somewhere between difficult and impossible. (So best not to try, really.)

The artwork, supplied by pencil artists Doug Mahnke, Aaron Lopresti, Xermanico and Eddy Barrows, is all fairly strong, but the annual offers the only story with a single pencil artist drawing it in its entirety, so the book looks, reads and feels somewhat unsettled, too. The first story arc, for example, features first and fourth chapters penciled by Mahnke, with Lopresti drawing the two middle chapters; their styles could hardly be more different. 

That first arc is "Invasion of The Supermen," in which we see—yet again—Earth invaded by a seemingly unstoppable army, all with Superman's powers. In this case, however, they aren't true Kryptonians, but Daxamites specially, artificially bred by The Eradicator to have all of the Daxamite/Kryptonian powers but none of their weaknesses. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The  Flash and Green Lantern John Stewart are the only Leaguers around (Aquaman will appear in the second arc, though; Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl made some cover appearances amid the variant covers of these issues, but apparently their status near the end of Snyder's run, when these comics were being created, must have been ambiguous enough not to try to include them here). 

Because Superman is vulnerable to magic and the Justice League's team of magic-users (that is, the Justice League Dark line-up) are conveniently "occupied with other matters," Batman goes to recruit Madame Xanadu to help repel the invaders.

I don't really remember where The Eradicator was last left after his last usage, but he can be an interesting villain, and is here; I also like his design here, which gives him black skin, accentuating the fact that he's a Kryptonian machine rather than a Kryptonian. Venditti, who has had plenty of experience writing John Stewart in the Green Lantern comics, brings back former Lantern Sodom Yat for a brief appearance, and creates a conflict between Stewart and Batman, who are both used to being in charge of their teams, and thus don't work together all that smoothly (It's an interesting dynamic that might have been explored by Snyder, but wasn't, and I suppose comes a little late, given how long this League has been together at this point).

The second story, "Cold War," feels a bit messier, as it involves The Spectre, whose status quo  has been unsettled since the reboot (He's in his classic design here, though, rather than the fussier New 52 one). The five heroes from the first arc answer a distress call from shirtless Aquaman, and they find him fighting a bunch of a mythological monsters at the South Pole. Then their eyes all turn green and they start fighting one another, until they realize what's going on, thanks to some literal deus ex comic book-a: Seeking to end  his career as the Spectre Force's human host, John Corrigan goes to Themyscira and asks the Amazons to lock him up in Tartarus. They do so, but this leads to The Spectre turning everyone in the world's eyes green, and leading to one of those "atrocity list" sequences that were cliche in the '90s. 

Xermanico and Barrows alternate issues of this story, and though they are a better match stylistically then Mahnke and Lopresti are, it's not a great-looking story (and seems particularly disappointing given how strong the last Spectre story I read was, the one drawn by Kyle Hotz in Detective Comics). 

The final story is the strongest of the lot. Batman finds a corpse in the Hall of Justice, and calls in Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Stewart to help him solve the extremely locked-room case, each of them bringing particular investigatory skills to the problem. Almost immediately, the Hall itself seems to turn against them, and they have to fight their way through their own defenses, relying on their teamwork to overcome threats too big for any one of them.

There are some fun moments in this—the way John takes out two security droids was the highlight of this collection for me, even cooler than Batman correcting Flash when he refers to a batarang as a boomerang—and although figuring out the identity of the "murderer" is dependent on one of the preceding stories, this is still the most complete story in the collection, and the best-looking, with consistent art from start to finish.

While it was refreshing to see the Justice League having adventures that weren't part of the multiversal shenanigans of Snyder's Justice vs. Doom mega-arc for once, it would have been more fun still to see what Venditti might have come up with were his short run not constrained by having to attempt some sort of quasi-adherence to Snyder's, and, perhaps, had he been given an artistic partner, rather than having whoever was available draw 20 pages here and there.

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 10 (Viz Media) The school year that the first nine volumes chronicled has come to an end and a new one has begun, which means some changes for Komi and Tadano and their classmates—but nothing too drastic. For example, instead of sitting side by side in class, the pair now sit diagonally from one one another. The major development is a new girl in their class, Rumiko Manbagi, who seems to be a "gal" type of girl who speaks (and thinks!) almost exclusively in slang (that needs translated), but whose make-up is pretty...out there, at least compared to the gal types I've seen in other manga. 

Rumiko is new to this class, and separated from her all of her friends, the students who appreciate/understand her crazy fashion and her vocabulary. She sits right next to Komi, and the two immediately misunderstand one another. Eventually, Tadano plays his usual role of communication disorder-haver whisperer, and that and an act of kindness from Komi add Rumkio to her the steadily growing friends list.

Manga-ka Tohohito Oda gives Rumiko an additional character trait that makes for plenty of fun scenes: When a boy is sweet to her, she becomes irrationally enraged, which leads to a lot of snapping at Tadano. Most of this volume revolves around Rumiko, as she invites Komi to hang out with her and her "fam" (friends) and then she ends up spending the night at Komi's.

There's also an interlude involving Tadano's little sister and Komi's little brother, who are classmates, and form a similar dynamic to their older siblings. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends Vol. 1 (IDW Publishing) Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's 1996 decision to hand their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters and comic over to Erik Larsen and Image Comics seemed bewildering to me at the time. The pair had seemingly only just resumed a more hands-on control of their creations, having collaborated on TMNT #50 and co-written the next 12 issues, the epic-length "City At War" storyline, before relaunching a second, full-color volume, written and penciled by Mirage Studio's Jim Lawson. The move to Image occurred after the thirteenth issue of Lawson's second volume of the ongoing.

There wasn't much to presage it, just 1993's Savage Dragon/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Crossover #1 by Larsen and Michael Dooney and 1995's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Savage Dragon Crossover #1 by Dooney.

I was bewildered enough by the decision that I didn't read any of those comics, as by 1996 the Image-brand was more of a warning sign than anything else (I had dabbled in Spawn, tried The Maxx and sampled a few first issues and one-shots here and there, disliking everything to varying degrees), and I didn't know the new creative team of writer Gary Carlson and artist Frank Fosco (Larsen's contributions were limited to editing the series and providing the often repellent covers, like this one seemingly featuring Elektra's butt). I kept on eye on the series in comics shops, but as Carlson and Fosco began dramatically remodeling the Turtles physically, turning Donatello into a cyborg and blowing off part of Raphael's face to scar him, I checked out on the Turtles, and didn't check back in until Laird and Lawson launched volume four in 2001 (I'm still trying to track down back-issues of the later half of that series and its sister Tales of... series, so if you happen to run a shop and have any of these, do let me know...!)

IDW, which has been comics home of the Turtles since 2011, has quite gradually been collecting previous Turtles comics in various formats, and began republishing the 26-issue Image series under the title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends, although there was a catch: They were coloring it. I ignored that too, thinking that if I were really interested in tracking down volume 3, I could probably do it via back-issue bin for less than $3.99 a pop, and, being a snob, I obviously would prefer to read it in its original black-and-white than the new, colorized version (The few colorized versions of Mirage Turtles comics I've read from IDW were pretty poor, but that's more the fault of the endeavor itself as opposed to how well or how poorly it might have been executed). 

IDW eventually collected their colorized single issues, and in August of 2019 we got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends Vol. 1, collecting the first half of the series (But not, I'm sorry to say, the Savage Dragon crossovers. I don't necessarily remember those being fantastic or anything—they fought gargoyles in one of them, which is the sum total of my memory of them—but near the end of this volume they will travel to Dragon's Chicago and Michaelangelo will seek to reconnect with a Savage Dragon character apparently met during one of those, and it might have been nice to have read that story...although the series starts with such a bang, that I can see why it wasn't included; maybe IDW will publish those and some of the TMNT appearances from within the pages of Savage Dragon as an Urban Legends Companion or something eventually...)

Now given that I had decided almost 25 years ago that this isn't something I would care for, I suppose it's not too terribly surprising that I liked it a lot more than I expected to. It's obviously not my favorite volume of the five, but I ended up liking it about as much as I did volume 2, and better than volume 5 (the current, IDW one), which took some foundational departures that colored all of the thousands of pages that followed (The current run, by Sophie Campbell and company, is pretty great though). 

The greatest surprise, for me, was that this is a continuation of the first two, Mirage-published volumes of TMNT (I'm having trouble remembering if there are any direct references to volume two, or if things like Michaelangelo's basement apartment are from the end of volume one). Casey and April are together and live in the building April bought from Casey's mom, they are raising Shadow together as their daughter and the Turtles are serving as her babysitters and  uncles, the Turtles have access to an air car that belonged to Zog (from "Return To New York"), Michaelangelo is a writer, etc.

I was also pretty taken with Fosco's art, which, at least in terms of design, is quite compatible with that of A.C. Farley, a Mirage artist who did a couple of issues of the first volume (#29 and  #4), but whose Turtles are probably most familiar from  his cover work ( #48-49, #51-62 and the seven volumes of The Collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). The figures of the title characters are all squat and powerful, they have rounded heads with extremely short, barely-there snouts, and his Splinter is extremely small and rat-like, as opposed to the more familiar shaggy, dog-like Splinter that Eastman draws.

The art suffers a bit from having been produced at Image in the mid-nineties, as is most notable in the many cyborg characters that populate the earliest issues—after which point Donatello becomes a cyborg—and many times Fosco seems more comfortable with the Turtles than with the human characters, as is perhaps most evident in his drawings of the toddler Shadow, who looks a bit more like an animated doll than a human child. 

The coloring, by Adam Guzowski, doesn't do Fosco's art any favors, either; produced to be black-and-white, the art doesn't always take colors well, as some of the things that seem like they were meant to be seen in shadow or are left particularly abstract because they are in the distance can look unfinished and unfortunate in color (like, a round turtle head in the background is just a circle in black and white, but becomes a blob of green in color, and makes the brain ask why the artists couldn't fill in those details if another artist was going to fill in the detail of color...even if we know the answer, the brain still notices it). 

As for the storyline, Carlson captures the spirit of the earliest bit of the first volume, the first 8-12 issues or so, in which things happened at a very swift clip, often overlapped, and there was relatively little connective tissue in terms of the milieu—one of the things that I think have helped the Turtles survive so long is that versatility of genre is built right into them. There's really no story too weird to involve their participation. Carlson also has Splinter captured immediately, and the Turtles go without their mentor for an extended period of time, as Eastman and Laird did early in the series, and again later during "City At War."

The book begins with the brothers in the midst of celebrating their 18th birthday, when their sewer lair is attacked by a group of very Image Comics-looking cyborgs, lead by a scantily-clad ninja wearing a bathing suit, a full-face mask and a cape: This is Pimiko, who is one of the recurring villains of the series...or at least the first half of it.

They kidnap Donatello and Splinter, and blow off part of Raphael's face in the battle; he'll resort to wearing one of Casey's old masks for much of this volume, although he will occasionally don an eyepatch. This seems to be Carlson and Fosco's attempts to differentiate the Turtles visually without having to resort to them wearing their initials on their belts. It's...certainly a solution.

As for Donatello, his body more-or-less dies during an escape attempt, but is rebuilt by the self-healing, smart technology in the cyborg who dies alongside him. So a simple glance at the cover will help you tell at least two of the Turtles apart from the other two, without your needing to even glance at their weapons.

Rescuing Splinter introduces a new villain, The Dragonlord, as well as a mutant, a short-lived Wolverine parody character and a shark mutant unimaginatively named Mako (I do like Larsen's cover featuring this guy, as he's in the act of attempting to swallow Michaelangelo whole). The rescue is only a partial success, though, as Splinter gets mutated into a bat and flies away. 

Back in New York, Shadow is kidnapped by the mafia, as it turns out her real father was a scion of a mob family, and Michaelangelo has to rescue here. Leonardo goes to Midway City in search of Splinter, leading to a crossover with Image's Big Bang Comics (the Turtles appeared in Big Bang Comics #10, in a prequel to this particular issue, which is also a good candidate for IDW to collect into some sort of Urban Legends Companion, completing the Image appearances of the TMNT).

By the second half of this volume, Michaelangelo and Raphael end up in Chicago, reteaming with the Savage Dragon and meeting various members of that book's supporting cast, like Superman pastiche Vanguard and a lizard lady that Michaelangelo kisses—he also kisses a shape-changing humanoid appliance of Vanguards which takes on the weird-ass form of a mutant turtle woman with boobs. Mikey appear to have hit puberty at 18, as he spend a lot of time thinking and talking about women and, in the case of that lizard lady, pursuing her; this is, overall, probably the horniest Turtles volume. Fosco's art isn't particularly sexy, but there are certainly a lot of scantily-clad women, as Pimiko has an entire team of ninja women in bondage gear she commands and Splinter is bathed by a couple of nude servants of the Dragonlord at one point. 

Overall, I don't know that I necessarily regret not reading this in the late '90s (money was tight back then!), but I was quite happy with it now. It's not a perfect collection—obviously I would have preferred it in black-and-white, and to read some of the comics like Big Bang and the Savage Dragon comics it alludes to—but I dug it enough that I bought a copy for my bookshelf after reading this, and am eagerly awaiting the second volume, which should collect the second half of the series. 

This volume includes the covers for the Urban Legends series that Fosco and Eastman produced. I suppose it's interesting to see Eastman interpreting some of the events from the first official Turtles volume produced outside of Mirage Studios, although he mostly sticks to drawing Turtles on the covers, so we don't see much in the way of his interpretation of, say, The Dragonlord or Pimiko or The Savage Dragon. 


ArkhaManiacs (DC Comics) I found all of Art Baltazar and Franco's versions of various Batman rogues, many of whom have appeared in previous comics of theirs, to be pretty charming, even endearing. That said, I had a bit of difficulty with the premise of this original graphic novel, in which the villains are all friendly weirdos who live together at Arkham Apartments, owned by the Wayne Family. They teach young Bruce Wayne the value of imagination by dint of their madness, which is here portrayed more as eccentricity than various psychoses. 

Baltazar draws the definitive Alfred, though, doesn't he...?

Archie & Katy Keene (Archie Comics) Mariko Tamaki is everywhere! Here she and co-writer Kevin Panetta introduce Katy and her sister into the "New Riverdale" era of Archie Comics, with Katy temporarily moving to town before moving again to New York City. Given the poor performance of the Katy Keene TV show, I suspect this won't lead to a new Katy Keene ongoing or miniseries from the publisher. Laura Braga draws, and does he usual fine job.

Justice League Unlimited: Time After Time (DC) The biggest surprise in this collection of Justice League comics was the inclusion of an issue of Steve Vance and John Delaney's Adventures in the DC Universe, a late-nineties attempt to do for the rest of the DC Universe what Batman Adventures and Superman Adventures did for their respective corners of the DCU. Many of those stories were very  much of their time, but they were also very good, and offered great, all-ages introductions to characters like Superboy, Impulse, Captain Marvel and two generations of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up, as well as pre-figuring the animated Justice League (which here had the same line-up as the first JLA arc, so no Hawkgirl or John Stewart). 

Reading this collection—one story of which I had previously bought and read—made me really want an Adventures in the DC Universe collection, although these Justice League Unlimited ones are a lot of fun, and I liked that two of the odder characters included in the cartoon were given some attention here: The Shining Knight and The Vigilante are each the focal characters of a story. 

Transformers: The Manga Vol. 3 (Viz Media) There are several noteworthy differences between this third and final volume of Masumi Kaneda and Ban Magami's Transformers manga and the previous ones, but the one that sticks with me the most is the conclusion of one storyline wherein the heroes learn just why it is that the Decepticons have been so villainous, and it turns out they have a very good reasoning behind their bad acts, and peace is finally achieved. And then the very next story has them in conflict again, because peace would make for weird Transformers comics, you know? 

*This is page 5 of Empyre #6, and it involves Spider-Man and Wolverine in Fantastic Four costumes and an omni-wave projector; it's given just three panels of reference, plus an editorial box saying "As seen in current issues of FF", which I did not read, and obviously aren't included here. Again, if one was reading the entirety of the event as published, this likely made more sense and flowed better, but in trade it doesn't really work.

1 comment:

Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

As a person that read both the colorized Urban Legends and much of the original run of the Image Turtles back in the day, I'll tell you that Fosco's art was far weaker without color. While he's a good artist, his work without colors tended to look incredibly flat because he did little shading work.

When working with a colorist, the colors accomplish this and make the whole look a lot better.